On January 1 the pharmaceutical industry started imposing on itself a ban against the branded gifts to doctors that have been a constant companion of pharmaceutical sales representatives.  The Post-It notes, pens and coffee mugs bearing the brand names of various medications are gone.  The paperweights and staplers and occasional plush toys with names of prescription antacids and antidepressants and blood pressure medicines will fade into extinction or become collectors’ items.

Last week’s NY Times business section featured an article about this gift ban, with physicians offering diverse opinions on the issue.  On the one hand, it’s difficult to dispute that these trinkets have some subtle effect on physician opinion, otherwise pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t have been handing them out by the thousands.  On the other hand, with Medicare and Medicaid less than a decade away from insolvency, and with the baby boom facing a critical shortage of primary care physicians as they reach retirement, I’m not sure that the Valtrex pad of sticky notes on my desk is the major national problem that needs our attention right now.

So the pharmaceutical sales representatives will still come by our office and tell us how their latest medication is newer and better and safer than their competition, but now the interaction won’t be sullied by the corrupting influence of a free coffee mug.  That’s very reassuring.  I know I’ll sleep better tonight, even without my Lunesta penlight.

(Thanks to my pal and colleague, Dr. Mark Urman, for pointing me to the NY Times article, which also features his partner’s collection of hundreds of pharmaceutical pens.  You can check it out by following the link below.)

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NY Times article: No Mug? Drug Makers Cut Out Goodies for Doctors